The Army Reflective Belt: Why America no longer wins wars

Posted on

Yesterday I went for a bike ride, approximately 18 miles total.  I rode my mountain bike out Fort Drum’s gate, had lunch at Buffalo Wild Wings, a coffee at Starbucks in downtown Watertown, then rode back.  I approached the gate guard with my ID card in hand. I was wearing civilian clothes because it was a day off for me.  The guard stared at me for longer than I expected before asking, in an extremely foreboding tone: “Where is your reflective belt?” The Army reflective belt is part of the physical training uniform and is also worn during some outdoor activity, even in broad day light.  Given that the Army’s current digital camo pattern couldn’t hide a Soldier in a 50 foot well, the idea that a green or yellow belt prevents many accidents during the day seems absurd. Joe makes fun of the belt all the time, asking if it deflects bullets.

Who cares about winning wars

I told the gate guard that I didn’t have my belt with me.  Usually I wear by belt on bike rides, but to be honest I wasn’t sure if I needed to wear it when I was out of uniform during the day.  Apparently I do, because the guard made if very clear that if I ever rode my bike to the gate again without a belt, the guards wouldn’t let me in.  The base is the size of a small town, so this green belt is valuable indeed and grants one elite status by actually allowing Soldiers to get to their homes.  I guess I would have been sleeping in the woods outside the gate without my belt.

The guard gave me a pass for my beltless sin.  As I rode my bike away, I grew increasingly pissed at the situation.  Here I was a guy who joined the Army out of a sense of duty, a married adult, with kids, a former cop who arrested people for real crimes–never because American citizens weren’t wearing reflective material–being told by some retired military fellow longing for his glory days that I couldn’t get back to the place where I lay my head because I didn’t have a green belt on.  Yeah, I know.  He was just doing his job.  Which is why I nodded my head and rode off without arguing with him.  Then it occurred to me that a general officer probably made the dumb reflective belt rule.  Someone responsible for an entire division in the most deployed unit in US military history actually made a rule this inane.  All the same time, General McChrystal was issuing rules of engagement in Afghanistan that said we couldn’t fire illumination rounds during firefights at night if we thought there was the smallest chance an empty illumination canister could fall on a farmer’s hut.  Never mind that we can’t see the enemy that’s shooting at us.

And so as I see it, this is a symptom of why America can’t finish off its modern day wars.  Its military is incredibly small minded.  We have the brightest, shiniest toys any Soldier could hope for.  We just have no idea what we’re doing strategically.  As I once said to an analyst buddy of mine in Afghanistan: “Stupid people place equal importance on all things.”

Don’t get me wrong.  The Army has some very smart people within its ranks.  But it is an utterly broken culture, devoid of the agility, creativity and openness needed to fight today’s wars.  We’re forced to rely on drone strikes in Pakistan and hope for the best.  The only units in the Army that possess the needed qualities to fight are special operations forces, and they know how ponderously dumb Big Army can be.  Many times, the special operators avoid working with regular military folk while deployed because they consider them amateurs.

As long as Soldiers know more about the regulations covering the proper wear of the reflective belt than they do Sun Tzu, expect America to continue making itself look foolish.

Dilbert and the world of military intelligence

Posted on Updated on

Read Dilbert. Then you’ll know exactly what the higher end of military intelligence work is like. A bunch of smart people who get bored and start arguing about the color of Power Point slides. I’ve never really worked in an office environment before the intel world, but I think it drives people insane. To the point where they can barely function in any other aspect of life other than intel. They’ll spend three hours tweeking a single PP slide, to get that just-right shade of green that the Colonel likes on his borders. Need real analysis on the psychological makeup of a dangerous insurgent leader? What will this guy do next? Will he cooperate with us if we offer peace? Is he only trying to get our help so that he can destroy his tribal enemies?

Well, don’t ask most people in the intel field. They can show you every nuance of the latest app. They can almost get Power Point to make coffee. But real analysis? No, that takes talent. You can barely teach it. The best analysts are the ones that just get it. Many won’t like my take on that. It’s not scientific enough. Oh but it is scientific, I’m just not describing it in a scientific way. Real Intel analysis has a human face. Nerds hate human faces. They feel much safer around 0011000101110111100111……

Then you’ll get the PHDs over at the Human Terrain Team. Good, smart people most of them. Speak multiple languages, write awesome reports. I’ve read them and used them recently. But then you’ll get that one PHD who’s just downright insane. The person that’s only here because they have a PHD. You know, the soft, social-science type. The one who’s completely out of their league in a war zone, so makes a great effort in messing up the daily lives of their allies, acting territorial. “Don’t try to steal my stuff!” I guess they just want to give the world a Coke. Instead, the world over here is smoking hashish and opium,  waving an AK and studying bomb-making.

So not cool. But Dilbert would be right at home over at HTT.

Awesome beer quotes–I’ll have another…

Posted on Updated on

  • “A woman drove me to drink and I didn’t even have the decency to thank her.”-W.C. Fields
  • “No soldier can fight unless he is properly fed on beef and beer.”-John Churchill, First Duke of Marlborough
  • “Not all chemicals are bad. Without chemicals such as hydrogen and oxygen, for example, there would be no way to make water, a vital ingredient in beer.”-Dave Barry
  • “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”-Benjamin Franklin
  • “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts, and beer.”-Abraham Lincoln
  • “I would kill everyone in this room for a drop of sweet beer.-Homer Simpson
  • “”I feel sorry for people who don’t drink. When they wake up in the morning, that’s as good as they’re going to feel all day.”-Frank Sinatra
  • “I decided to stop drinking with creeps. I decided to drink only with friends. I’ve lost 30 pounds.”-Ernest Hemingway
  • “A quart of ale is a dish for a king.”-William Shakespeare
  • “Make sure that the beer – four pints a week – goes to the troops under fire before any of the parties in the rear get a drop.”-Winston Churchill to his Secretary of War, 1944

General McChrystal never had a chance

Posted on Updated on

Let us consider the following:

Stanley McChrystal is brought in to save a collapsing Afghan war effort. General McKiernan, the former man in charge and a man with 30 years of service to his country, is unceremoniously dumped. 

McChrystal was supposed to represent the new administration’s fresh start.

But wait.

McChrystal wants how many troops? We absolutely love Counter Insurgency, with its false promises (they’re false because they’re misinterpreted; watch how many Taliban get smoked under Patraeus–lots and lots) of winning the war by merely ordering our troops to smile while on patrol. Yes, yes, CI. But how many soldiers on the ground? 80,000 seems so…warlike.

No, General, you’ll get less than half what you say you need, and you’ll like it. We really only put you in place to show our fresh perspective to Americans. Out with the old, in with the new. And, just to keep you honest, we’re setting a timeline. 18 months.

In other words, General, we want you to do the impossible. And if you begin to falter, you’re such an easy political target. You’re a military guy afterall, and the Dems are in power. We know what that means, don’t we? We’ll make it look as if you stole those 4 stars you’re wearing. Sure we’ll throw you a couple of bones, talk about your brave service and sacrifice, then we’ll showboat for the media, tell them who’s in charge. Us. Well, us and the media.

Never mind that ambassador Karl Eickenberry was undermining McChrystal from the beginning. Eickenberry’s a civilian. He does what he wants. And he works for the State Department, the favorite department of the Dems.

Hey, we don’t care that the civilians weren’t working as a team with the military. It’s up to the military to work as a team with the civilians. We let McChrystal come up with a strategy and then threw in some civilians who wanted to do everything differently, sure. That’s not the point.

This is how things should be right here. Watch this video. This guy in the black suit knew who the boss was. He was a REAL soldier.

OK, I’m back. It’s no longer the thin-skinned, confused Democrat talking. It’s me, Magus. See, I agree with almost everything Karl Eikenberry had to say. But just who is it that’s not promoting team work? How should McChrystal feel if Eikenberry is sending classified letters to the White House explaining why McChrystal’s tactics are wrong? It’s been a patchwork war. We want Counter Insurgency, then we take away the tools needed for CI: time and lots of soldiers. CI wouldn’t be my choice, because Afghanistan is not important enough for the investment. But if I was a 4-Star, and the President said make it happen, I’d say Ok, now give me a decade and 100,000 troops.

We set McChrystal up for failure. The media is predictably piling on, like they do every time someone’s down, trying to make McChrystal look like an idiot. He was misused. He should have been directing Spec Ops to kill our enemies. Instead, we made a killer into a constable. Then we gave him half the cops he asked for.

And I stand by my prediction that–more than any other factor–Afghanistan spelled this administration’s doom.

Paul McCartney: Leave him aloone!!

Posted on

Here Paul McCartney delivers his support for Obama and admonition for President Obama’s critics:

Of course, Sir Paul also insinuated that  President Bush didn’t know what a library was. Mrs. Bush is a librarian….

Here, Sir Paul can be a seen in a very private moment, defending another intellectual giant: Britney Spears:

Paul, my advise to you? Let it be.

Don’t forget to feed your war

Posted on Updated on

Adoring Disciple: “What shall we name him, Barack? He’s lonely and needs a home. And people so love a pet war. They hate bad wars, like Iraq. You know, the kind that drags on forever and kills kids.”

Obama: “Lets name him: ‘The Necessary War.’ Chuck a couple of troops at him, see if he’s hungry.”

 Adoring Disciples: “Ok.”

A few months later….

Adoring Disciple: “Oh my! He is hungry! Look at him gobble those troops!”

Obama: (Concerned look) “Do we have a cage or at least a chain?”

Adoring Disciple: “No. Nothing. We do have more troops though. Seems The Necessary War was hungrier than anyone could have imagined.”

Obama: “Put him in the basement or something. People are going to get tired of this little beast pretty quickly.”

Adoring Disciple: “But you promised the children they could see him!”

Obama: “Put him away. This one likes the taste of kids, just like the last one did.”

Adoring Disciple: “The kids will be so disappointed. They believed in you, Barack. Not to mention how unhappy this cute little vote-getter will be, all the work he did for you making others look incompetant. Now, he’ll just go to town on you. Just keep throwing troops at him. Eventually he’ll get full. I think.”

Obama: “Alright. But figure out a way to make him disappear. Can we make glue out him? Gotta be something…”